Amtrak ready to spend - is Jacksonville listening?

July 13, 2009 26 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

The benefits of Amtrak extend far beyond what the average person thinks. They can be instrumental in not only Jacksonville's fight to implementing commuter rail, but also establishing a corridor service among Florida's major cities. The question is Jacksonville even interested in listening?

An example of an Amtrak Corridor Service - San Clemente Pier, California (Image by marek69 at

On May 21st, a national series of passenger rail conferences came to Orlando, to discuss enhancing rail service in Florida. Many civic and transportation leaders (and city executives, including Mayors from cities larger and smaller than Jacksonville) were in attendance.  How many delegates from Jacksonville showed up?

Two. Stephen Dare of Metro Jacksonville and Bob Mann, a local train expert who has worked with Metro Jacksonville on many studies and proposals.

Now, the folks in Jacksonville use the excuse that the Reality Check 2060 visioning study was the same day.  Yes, this was unfortunate scheduling, however, was not one person from JTA available to represent the organization?  Could someone from the First Coast Transportation Planning Organization (TPO) not take a ride down to Orlando?  Hell, the program started at NOON!  This simply would have required someone from Jacksonville to leave at the incredibly early hour of 9 AM to make it safely in time.  In fact, if they had asked Stephen Dare and Bob Mann nicely, I bet the two of them would have even allowed JTA to carpool with them!

At the event, Amtrak came down with a couple suitcases of money, looking to spend on improving passenger rail service in Florida. This is important to Jacksonville for many reasons, including:

1. Amtrak is successful at running commuter rail services in many cities, which can significantly reduce the cost incurred by Jacksonville in starting up a system.

2. Increasing Amtrak’s presence in Florida would most likely involve improvements to the existing rail lines (such as overpasses at railroad crossings, additional track construction, etc). This would come from Federal dollars, not local)

3. A potential chance to pass the cost of renovating the Jacksonville Terminal back into a passenger rail station to the Feds.

4. Amtrak already carries liability insurance. You may remember that this was the largest sticking point in the failure to pass the Orland Commuter Rail deal, where the state of Florida would have to carry the liability.

Now, perhaps we want what Amtrak is willing to provide, perhaps we don’t. However, there is no harm in listening. But, in order to listen, someone from Jacksonville would need to spend time with these folks, which obviously isn’t happening.
So, since Jacksonville’s government isn’t willing to step up to the plate, Metro Jacksonville put together a resolution for the Jacksonville City Council to pass supporting restoring passenger rail service on the Florida East Coast Railway (the line paralleling US 1) to several city council members, asking for their support (remember, a resolution is just the City Council taking a position on an issue, not spending any money).  The response received back from the council was a bit frustrating.  While some were in favor of this, they could not support the resolution, because they were philosophically opposed to the federal stimulus program, which is where Amtrak was getting money from to implement the service.

This is not intended to be a debate over the federal economic stimulus. Some believe it will be a benefit to the country as a whole, some think we will put us in debt for a generation. Whatever the political view may be, the debate on that is immaterial. The money is going to be spent. So, we have a choice:  be in debt for 20 years, or be in debt for 20 years, but at least have something to show for it.

Note for elected officials:  YOU ARE NOT ELECTED TO SERVE YOUR CONSCIENCE, YOU ARE ELECTED TO DO WHAT’S BEST FOR THE CITY OF JACKSONVILLE AND ITS RESIDENTS. Please quit the, “we’re going to be above the Obama stimulus”, stop turning this into a political issue, and do what is best for Jacksonville and its taxpayers.

If we continue to have this complacent, Mayberry attitude, the rest of Florida’s cities will continue to move forward, while we will sit on our rear ends and watch the train literally pass us by.

Article by Steve Congro